The Environment Bill has passed its second reading in the House of Commons and will now move to committee stage, following a lively debate between MPs. The bill builds on the 25 Year Plan for the Environment in the UK and will enshrine environmental principles in UK law for the first time ensuring that the environment will be placed at the centre of Government decision making. The Bill introduces a set of new environmental policies including powers to tackle air pollution, biodiversity net-gain, waste management and deposit return schemes as well as increasing sustainable water management.
Wildlife habitats have been recognised crucial carbon storage systems. Protecting the forests, peatlands and natural open spaces will aim at averting the climate change emergency. The expansion of Heathrow Airport was also raised as a concern during the debate with the Government stating that they will require scheme’s promoters to demonstrate that they can come up with a scheme that meets the exacting conditions on the environment that Parliament has set.
New powers for the deposit return schemes and the polluter-pays principles would be enshrined in the Bill enabling a consistent set of household and business waste to be collected to enable easier and seamless recycling. It was noted that the plastic deposit scheme had captured the imagination of young people – which is exactly what needs to happen if we are to achieve sustainable changes in behaviour.
MPs from across the opposition and Government benches hit out at policies in the package which they believe lack teeth and weaken the environmental policy agenda. Additionally, questions were raised about the independence of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) without strong enforcement and prosecuting powers. It was recognised that significant resources will be needed to be successful and that the current Environment Agency struggled in its enforcement role due to a lack of resource.
The Bill will now progress to committee stage. Should there be a General Election before the process is completed, it is likely that the Bill will fail to progress through Parliament before dissolution and the new Government will need to start the process again.